Cher Public

A wasted time

Everyone who has ever lived in NYC has encountered a certain type of homeless drunk. This vagabond isn’t pissing his way through subway cars, but is well-put together and charming (or as well put together as one can be for a homeless guy). People spend a few minutes chatting with him, and most end up dropping him a couple bucks. “Get some coffee,” they say, even though they know he’s headed to the nearest deli for another cheap ’40 of malt liquor. And at least these sorts of guys are charming drunks and not tedious drunks.

Vittorio Grigolo in the title role of the Met’s revival of Les Contes d’Hoffman is the opera version of that charming homeless drunk. The Bartlett Sher production is hopeless—dreary and vulgar at the same time. Grigolo pretty much ignores Sher’s existential Kafka-esque “vision” and does his own singing and dancing vaudeville act.

You hear how his lower register is sort of garbled and swallowed, and that he includes too many veristic effects to be “idiomatic” for French opera, and he holds onto his high notes in a way that’s not very musical, but nearly all is forgiven when he jumps around the stage like a little frog in the Vittorio Grigolo Show. It’s not exactly Offenbach, but it is fun. And the Met’s Les Contes d’Hoffman is such an old-fashioned, corrupt version anyway, so who really cares about authenticity?

Grigolo’s cheerful manic energy was a stark contrast to Thomas Hampson (Four Villains). Most singers go to town on this role, camping it up any way they can with surreal, flamboyant, mustache-twirling antics. Hampson missed that memo and sang the whole thing like a lieder recital.

He eschewed any form-changing make-up to differentiate between Lindorf, Dr. Coppélius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertutto. He adopted the dignified formal art song posture and lieder mannerism of sing-speaking.. He even had the poofed baritone hair and sideburns. It was dreadful. I can forgive the fact that his voice doesn’t have much resonance anymore and sounds dry and worn, but I can’t forgive the fact that he was so damned tedious.

The women were okay to very good. Least impressive was Christine Rice (Giulietta). She’s not old, but she has an old voice—throaty and matronly, the type of sound that totally disappears in ensembles and was barely present in the “Barcarolle.” Her portrayal of the seductive courtesan was also matronly. The Marie Antoinette get-up didn’t help but neither did her stand-and-sing style.

She was totally overshadowed by the striking performance of Kate Lindsey (Muse/Nicklausse), who’s a dead ringer for Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) and has a nice plummy mezzo. Lindsey was a real scene-stealer. The Violin Aria was a vocal highlight.

It was harder for Lindsey to steal the thunder from Erin Morley’s Olympia. For me the younger Natalie Dessay will always be the standard Olympia by which I judge others, but Morley’s smaller, less penetrating, but pleasant voice sailed through “Les oesiaux dans la chamille” with plenty of acuti thrown in including a squeaker of a final note. Cute. I look forward to hearing more things from her.

Hibla Gerzmava (Antonia) was the opposite of Lindsey and Morley—she’s obviously of a certain age and not exactly exciting to watch. Her voice sometimes resembles Anna Netrebko’s, and not necessarily in a good way. She has the same dark, rich timbre, but also Netrebko’s potato mouth and rhythmic slackness. But it’s a large, well-produced voice with a very impressive upper register. She expires on a full-throated trill.

Yves Abel led a spirited, lively rendition in the pit that was only occasionally coordinated with the soloists and chorus. At least he wasn’t tedious.

At the end of the evening Vittorio put on the Show After the Show. Of course he burst out from the wings, and leapfrogged to downstage center for his curtain calls. (No dignified slow walk for him.) He was so overcome by the applause that he knelt, put his hands on the stage, and leaned down to kiss it as if he were Licia Albanese reincarnated.

Of course he was pelted with bouquets, which he caressed without offering any of his leading ladies so much as a measly petal. After kissing the stage he did the thing where he reaches into his jacket to “pull out his heart” and then ended the show by “throwing his heart into the audience”.

A wise man once said: “It’s absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” Vittorio Grigolo may be a narcissist, but at least he’s a charming one.

Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

  • Avantialouie

    My understanding is that although the Kaye edition of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” may not be technically “out,” is IS available and has already been performed complete and in toto in public, including the finale to the Giulietta act. What I don’t understand is why any house with any pretense at all to responsibility and accuracy would perform anything ELSE. (Yes, I know, there are idiots in this world who seem to believe that a four-act “Don Carlo” suffices, too.) Polenzani sang a beautiful Hoffmann in Chicago, in a satisfactory production, to a woefully primitive edition that did the work NO honor.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      It will be very interesting to see what Stefan Herheim makes of all of it when his new production of HOFFMANN (based on the Kaye edition) opens this summer in Bregenz.

    • CarlottaBorromeo

      The Kaye-Keck edition has been available on hire from Schott for several years and has been used in many productions. However the idea that it could be performed “in toto” is misguided. The edition includes alternative versions of several numbers and choices still have to be made about what to perform -- the edition is not in that sense a definitive final version.

      There are differing views about the value of the editors’ work -- all I would say is that the Lloyd-Webber-like apotheosis might have been better left buried…

    • quoth the maven

      Avantialouie--the comparison between HOFFMANN and DON CARLOS is inexact. Offenbach never lived to finish his opera, which means any performing version is, basically, dealer’s choice (although the one the Met uses is particularly corrupt). As for DON CARLOS/CARLO, Verdi himself wrote the four-act version. Presumably he thought it would suffice--was he an “idiot”? You could even argue that it’s more authentic than the portmanteau five-act version.

  • sycamore

    Hampson adopted the dignified formal art song posture and lieder mannerism of sing-speaking… More like sing-barking. No bottom notes and barked all the way. I thought his Macbeth was bad a couple of seasons ago. I was wrong.

    • Camille

      This is worse?

      Oh god no. No way I will go.

  • pasavant
    • Milady DeWinter

      Great taste pasavant -- “Gorgeous Korjus” is one of my nightingale fascinations. Too bad her career got waylaid by a car accident after “The Great Waltz” success. Her precision in scalework was almost eerie. Of course, the straight laser tone (especially on high) is not to everyone’s liking, and she gave up the legit opera stage for concertizing after 1936 or thereabouts. I knew a voice teacher, a very good baritone, in Buffalo (yes, Buffalo, near the hamlet of Boston NY, where vocal phenom Ellen Beach Yaw was born) who claimed to have worked in Hollywood as an extra-slash diction coach in the late 1930s who said Korjus was famous for her party girl escapades during her sojourn there.

  • Amnerees

    To DeepSouthSenior--
    One of the joys of being a senior is remembering great performances by singers of the past. (And one of the most boring things for younger opera lovers is hearing those memories.) However, I*ll proceed briefly. You might have been less impressed by Dessay*s Olympia had you heard both Ruth Welting and Joan Sutherland. When I heard Sutherland at the Met in her traveling production I had heard several Olympias (Sills and D*Angelo among them), and I had never heard such extraordinary singing in the role. (Her Antonia was definitive.) Still, Welting was the most amazing Olympia. What a pity she never sang Filene at the Met. (Did she sing it anywhere?)

    • Philine……….(Filene’s was a store)

      • Camille

        Filene didn’t have a store but a Basement.

        Ask Anna.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Of course the original Filene’s had a store, founded in 1881. The basement came later in 1908. What a zoo it was. Filene’s was eventually owned by Mrs. Catherine Filene (Mrs. Jewett) Shouse (1896-1994), who founded Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts.

          • Camille

            Ah, so.

            I had no idea that Filene originally had a store which then became her basement, nor that it was an institution of such long standing. Anna Netrebko endeared herself to me when, in an interview over a dozen years ago, she mentioned she loved Filene’s Basement as a place to shop for cashmere! Surely she is now shopping for that same cashmere at Bergdorf’s or Loro Piana these days, and has no further need of bargains. However, I do deplore the demise of Filene’s Basement as well, now, as Daffy’s, where one may have similarly happened onto a treasure.

            It’s a Tar-JAY World out there now.

            • The last time I was in Boston, in October, Filene’s was shut -- for renovation, I hope, not forever.

    • armerjacquino

    • lyrebird

      Here’s that senior’s moment (Met ’74) confirmed if by nothing else the age of the notabaritone.

    • ducadiposa

      Definitely. She’s on the Sony recording with Horne!

  • Amnerees

    I*m still recovering from holiday shopping, apparently …

    Merveilleuse! Merci bien!

  • Amnerees


    Divine. We can*s monopolize La Cieca*s blog, but do you have the trio and Sutherland*s dazzling high D-flat and expiring trill? Where does one get this wonderful video?

    • lyrebird

      Amnerees -- Here’s hoping the rocking chairs on the verandah will be tolerated if we don’t creak too much …

      The Trio

      Here’s Death By Trill

      But wait, there’re more. Get the sherry.

      • Camille

        The original Chiller Killer Triller Thriller.

        Such a sound. Like no other.

        Thank you so very much.

        • lyrebird

          De rien Camille. Le plaisir etait pour moi.

          • Amnerees

            No, the pleasure was ours. Much more of this and I may have to add a heart regulator to my geriatric drug regimen.

  • ducadiposa

    Trying to reply to Welting video but iPhone not cooperating. In any case she’s amazing in this. The variations in the second verse are virtuosic and she captures the role’s silly narcissism perfectly. She’s of interest to me as she appeared in Ontario (COC and Opera Hamilton a fair bit around this time. A friend who knew her said she was devout Christian who condemned the Sodom & Gomorrah she saw at the MET! A great artist though who died tragically though.

  • Amnerees

    I had heard that Welting was something of a religious fundamentalist. At least she didn*t insist on changes in the texts of the operas she was singing for religious reasons like Jessye Norman did. I think it*s best to concentrate on what singers do on stage and in the recording studio. However prim Welting was in private life, she certainly exuded sensuality as Philine.

    • manou

      The ducadipisa leans towards agreeing with you.

      • Camille

        Haha! Ever on the alert!
        Good one this time and irrestible, I might add.

        • Camille

          Irresistible, yikes! Better correct spellchecking FAST!

    • DellaCasaFan

      Christian fundamentalism notwithstanding (assuming, of course, that this info comes from a reliable source), I find Ruth Welting’s life-path quite interesting and could never find a fully satisfactory account of some choices she made. She suffered a huge tragedy when her sister was murdered, but from a professional standpoint, I thought she made a rather brave and intriguing complete turnaround when she abandoned her vocal career for government studies at Syracuse U. I couldn’t find much about her substantive interest in the program but she also continued with graduate studies at the Maxwell School there, which is quite reputable in some areas, when cancer cut her life short. She was not in any major vocal decline when she switched to an entirely different career path, trading the world opera stage for the college classroom.

      • I had the bad luck, during the Opera Comique’s old “Klimt” production of Ariadne, to be next to a couple who clearly had it in for Ruth Welting (Zerbinetta, of course) and made it known even while she was singing: “Mais enfin, c’ est grotesque… C’est affreux… C’est ridicule…” So the people around them had to ask them to leave.

        • Camille

          Did they leave?
          Or, more importantly, did YOU leave, at the interval, of course!?!

          That reminds me of the French guy who sat behind me and sighed, heaved and groaned his dismay at the sound of Ewa Podles sounds as La Cieca (the role, NOT La Doyenne) in that 2008 Gioconda. I turned around and gave him the stinkeye but he wS so absorbed in his moaning he took no notice.

          • It was so long ago I don’t remember if they left. I certainly didn’t because what I have, en revanche, never forgotten is the thrilling coup de theatre during the final bars.

          • The kind of person who behaves, at the opera, in such a way as to deserve a stinkeye is no likelier to notice you than a French waiter when you need more bread.

            • Camille

              That is the truth.

              I am glad you had your revanche and I hope that these horrors which have transpired in Paris of late are not affecting nor aflicting you.

            • Only insofar as they force me to think about complex issues.

  • Amnerees

    Apologies to the Duke of Pisa, wherever he may be.

  • messa di voce

    What do Ruth Welting, Sherri Greenawald, and Roberta Alexander have in common?

    • Camille

      They all were conducted by and married Edo de Waart?

      I don’t know. Just guessing and having fun….

      • messa di voce

        And being correct.

        • Camille

          Tu scherzi?
          OMG! I feel as if I had won the $64,000 Question!

          You made my day, for now I feel there is hope for my memory like a sieve, afterall! Merci!

          • messa di voce

            Your prize, should you choose to accept it: a life-size cast of Mr. de Waart’s “baton.”

            • MontyNostry

              Someone told me the other day that Edo has been married so many times he’s known as Edo de Wors. (Dutch-style pronunciation required)

            • manou

              It seems Edo has said “I do” six times.

            • MontyNostry

              And weren’t he and Susan Graham an item for some time?

            • manou
            • Camille



              GRAND Mercy Me!

            • messa di voce

              La Camille has graciously accepted her award, and has discretely returned to the privacy of her boudoir, from which she will emerge, tired but happy, later this evening.

            • Camille


              ALL you promised and more!! Must needs be discreet so no more details….

            • lyrebird

              There are car stickers to be had which say:

              Honk If You Haven’t Been Married To Edo

  • Troppo Primavera

    Giulietta in Hoffman is a pig of a part.You need to have a very big personality to make an effect.Two singers in my experience brought it off..the very camp Amy Shuard at the ROH and the very intense Brigitte Fassbaender in the Ronconi production in Florence.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Fassbaender and Shuard were wonderful artists, but you might think very differently about Giulietta if you knew and understood what Offenbach and Barbier actually wrote for her to sing before the opera was deformed by Léon Carvalho for the world premiere at the Opéra-Comique. Giulietta’s aria (choice of three), her subjugation of Hoffmann and her declamations in the final scene of the act make the role a tour de force for women able to portray all three of Hoffmann’s loves embodied in the prima donna named Stella. The convention of assigning the role of Giulietta to a mezzo-soprano was not even something that was done when Raoul Gunsbourg fashioned his version of the opera in 1904 and that was never what Offenbach intended when he wrote all of the heroines for the versatile Adèle Isaac.